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Pope Benedict XVI: Anti-War, Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice, Anti-Reform

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Conservative German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is chosen Pope. We get reaction from the editor of a journal of theology that Ratzinger founded, a woman theologian who helped launch an open conclave and wants more involvement of women in the church, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and a reporter with the world opinion roundup. [includes rush transcript]

Conservative German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Tuesday to succeed Pope John Paul the Second to lead the Catholic Church. He took the name Pope Benedict XVI and became the 265th leader of the world’s most powerful Christian institution with 1.1 billion members.

Shortly before 6pm Rome time yesterday, white smoke indicating the Pope’s election puffed from a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. Onlookers started to cheer and five minutes later, the great bell of St. Peter’s began to toll.

After his name was announced, Benedict the sixteenth addressed the thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square and millions more across the globe. He said, “The cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard.”

The selection of Ratzinger came on the second day of balloting by cardinals -who met for less than 24 hours–making it one of the quickest conclaves of the past century. During the past year, as Pope John Paul the second’s health declined, Ratzinger was increasingly perceived as the pope-in-waiting.

Ratzinger was born in Germany in 1927. At 78 years-old, he is the oldest man to be elected pope in three centuries and he is the first German pope in a thousand years.

In his teens, he was briefly a member of the Hitler Youth, drafted into the army and eventually deserted. He served time in a POW camp. In 1951, he was ordained and became a Cardinal in 1977. In 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed him head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, where he has served for the last quarter of a century.

He is widely viewed as a conservative theologian and a hard-line enforcer of Catholic Church doctrine. In the 1980s, Ratzinger was a fierce opponent of liberation theology.

He strongly opposes abortion, an increased role of women in the church, artificial birth control and homosexuality.

In 2003, Ratzinger’s office issued instructions to Catholic politicians to vote against gay marriage. During last year’s presidential election campaign, he advised US bishops to deny Communion to politicians who support abortion rights–who many saw as directly targeting Catholic presidential candidate, John Kerry. Ratzinger also publicly cautioned Europe against admitting Turkey to the European Union stating that the continent is essentially Christian.

At the same time, Ratzinger has been credited with being a vocal critic of war and capital punishment. Two years ago he questioned if any war could be considered a just war.

Today, we take an in-depth look at Pope Benedict XVI and the future of the Catholic church.

  • Jefferson Morley, writes the “World Opinion Roundup” column for washingtonpost.com. He wrote the recent piece “Hopes for a Third World Pope,” available at the above web page, and is currently working on a column about the global reaction to the election of the new Pope.
  • William Portier, Mary Ann Spearin chair of Catholic theology and professor of religious studies at University of Dayton.
  • Mary Hunt, co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual based in Silver Springs, Maryland. It is a member group of the Women’s-Church Convergence that launched an Open Conclave of its own.
  • Michael Lerner, Rabbi Lerner is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun and the editor of TIKKUN magazine, a Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in our Washington, D.C. studio by Mary Hunt, a co-director of Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Jefferson Morley, who writes the “World Opinion Roundup” column for the Washington Post website. On the phone from Dayton, Ohio, we’re joined by William Portier, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton and Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology. And on the line from the Bay Area, Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of TIKKUN magazine, a bimonthly Jewish critique of politics, culture and society. We’re going to begin in Washington with Jefferson Morley. Can you talk about your sampling of world reaction over this last 12-20 hours?

JEFFERSON MORLEY: I think you’re seeing a couple of things emerging quickly. There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the Church hierarchy for Ratzinger. He’s well-known in Africa. His conservative stances are popular in the pre-modern societies that seem to be on the verge of collapse. In Latin America you have a much more visible, much more palpable sense of disappointment in the — a week ago, in the past week, a lot of people were citing the statistic that 45 to 55% of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America. There’s a real disappointment there. One Univision journalist said angrily, “You know, the Church is only interested in us for priests. That’s the only thing about us that interests them.” So in Latin America, it’s seen as being a Eurocentric choice. And in Europe, Ratzinger is very well known and controversial. Even in his own Germany, a poll taken by Der Spiegel news magazine last week found a plurality of people opposing Ratzinger’s appointment. His conservative stances on social issues are seen as especially out of step in western and northern Europe. So that’s some of the themes that are developing already in the international press.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by William Portier, Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology and Professor of Religious Studies, University of Dayton. Can you share reaction to the new pope and to the response around the world?

WILLIAM PORTIER: Well, most of the people that I know in the theological community are probably disappointed. I’m kind of happy about it. But I’m a minority.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you happy about it?

WILLIAM PORTIER: Well, one of my big worries when the Pope died was — one of the things that I most appreciated about John Paul II was his witness to peace and that he was able to stand up to the United States as part of a transnational kind of organization. And I was afraid that someone might be elected who wouldn’t do that. And I think Ratzinger will. I think Ratzinger will continue the, what the Pope did, with relationship to the witness to peace in the world. And I think the choice of his name is significant with that, because that’s what Benedict XV did. He was Pope during World War I. So I’m happy about that. And I’m on the editorial board of Communio, which is a journal of theology. And Cardinal Ratzinger, when he was a theologian, was one of the founders of Communio, so I feel a certain theological affinity with him. Although I don’t consider myself a fascist.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by that?

WILLIAM PORTIER: Well, you know, I don’t — I don’t think that, you know, there are a lot of — I don’t know, what can I say? I just don’t think that he’s, you know, the Panzer Cardinal or Darth Vader. I think he’s a normal human being. He’s a good man. He will probably — I think he’s, you know, the last generation of World War II people. He’ll kind of — when he passes, that will pretty much be the end of them, and something new will happen. But I think they wanted him to kind of keep things going in the direction that they were going. And the change of name is kind of intriguing. Indicates a little bit of difference, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and come back to this discussion. Our guest on the line from University of Dayton, is William Portier. We’re also joined by Jefferson Morley of WashingtonPost.com and we’ll speak with Mary Hunt and Michael Lerner, Rabbi Lerner, in just a minute, with our guests now. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about the new Pope, conservative German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, on the phone with us from the University of Dayton, William Portier, a Professor of Religious Studies; on the phone from California, Rabbi Michael Lerner; and in Washington, D.C., in studio, Mary Hunt of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, known as WATER. Mary Hunt, can you share your response to the choosing of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to be the Pope?

MARY HUNT: Good morning, Amy. Of course, this is not a choice that anybody with whom I work would have made, and we’re deeply dismayed by the choice. However we’re not surprised at all. This is sort of a good news/bad news situation. Let’s start with the bad news, of course. The bad news is that it’s Cardinal Ratzinger, who I suspect won’t be a humble servant in anyone’s vineyard, certainly hasn’t been in the last 25 years. But the good news is that we know a lot about him. We’ve worked with him now for a long time, so we know exactly how he thinks. We know that he’s been the power behind the throne in the last decade at least of the most recent papacy. And it’s pretty clear that the hegemony of his world view is what has triumphed here. But what’s also true is that in this triumph, there’s a great clarity among progressive Catholics around the world, not only in the U.S. and in Western Europe, but certainly in Latin America and Asia and in Africa, where many people are not only disappointed because a person of their nationality didn’t win, but because someone who is not an inclusive unifier didn’t win. More significantly, I think women are very disturbed by the fact that there was a conclave at all, from which we were completely excluded. And we really were favoring, and I still favor and put out to your listeners, a possibility: the notion of an international team for the papacy. If the papacy is supposed to be a symbol of unity and not a person with authority, then it makes much more sense in a post-modern time to think not about one person, and especially not one person as divisive as Cardinal Ratzinger, but in fact to think about an intergenerational, international team of men and women who could in fact meet and lead a billion people using technology and travel as a way to bring many voices into the discussion. So we’re really pushing for a horizontal model of church, not the vertical one that Cardinal Ratzinger represents. But I’m not sure we would have been happy with anyone who would have been elected by this very flawed process.

AMY GOODMAN: William Portier, Professor of Religious Studies at University of Dayton. Your response to Mary Hunt?

WILLIAM PORTIER: What can I say? You know, there are a lot of women in the Catholic Church. And many of them are probably disappointed, as Mary Hunt said, with the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. But, you know, the Church, as I experience it in the United States, has — women have a pretty big role in it. Like, you know, 80% of parish work is done by women. The parish that I belong to has a pastoral associate. All — you know, the director of religious education, the youth minister, the choir director, are all women. There’s a great book by Phyllis Zagano, who teaches at Hofstra. It’s called Holy Saturday and it’s about, it’s a study of the history of women deacons in the Church. And it’s an argument for women deacons and admission of women to the clerical state, to sort of recognize their — the role that they actually in fact now play. And this was a book that Cardinal O’Connor encouraged Phyllis Zagano to write before he died. And I think that, you know, ordaining women deacons and making women cardinal electors and diocese chancellors, I know two women who are diocese chancellors. I think these are the sorts of things that we could do in the Church. Peter Steinfels, in A People Adrift, has a great chapter. He says, ok, let’s take them seriously when they say that women can’t be priests, but it’s not because they’re not equal. And so let’s — let’s take them seriously and press them to do these things, all of these things, short of ordaining women to the priesthood. And I think that’s what we should do. I think that’s what we should do in the Catholic Church. And I don’t know how, I mean, I don’t expect these things to occur in my lifetime or my daughters’ lifetime. I have two daughters, one of them is a theologian. So I don’t know, that’s what I would say.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Hunt, your response?

WILLIAM PORTIER: I could go on at great length, but…

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s get Mary Hunt’s response.

MARY HUNT: Thank you. Well, the problem is a very large one. And Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, was the primary architect of many of the teachings that have now been put forth that have set in concrete, as it were, the notions around women, around reproductive rights, around homosexuality. He was really the brains behind those, as it were. And I think that there’s a kind of sinister genius to his theology, because in fact what he does is he sets up the truth as absolute. There is only one absolute truth. And then he says that there are issues that we debate, and of course, those who don’t see them as in absolute terms can’t really enter into the debate with him. And finally, he always has a public policy component to it. So if you look at the variety of issues, whether it’s the ordination of women, whether it’s abortion or homosexuality, this pattern plays out. And in each instance, what you end up with is a clash of world views. Those of us who live in a post-modern society simply don’t see the world as he does.

The arguments, for example, against the ordination of women, are really intellectually rather embarrassing. I must say, as a theologian, it embarrasses me to have to repeat them. But, the arguments are three. At least one is that women don’t bear a natural resemblance to Jesus in the Eucharist. Well, we don’t know what that means other than male-ness. Secondly, that there were no women at the Last Supper. Well, the videos and still pictures of that certainly haven’t been produced. And the third, is that the kind of nuptial imagery, the bride and bridegroom imagery that the Church uses would be violated if women were the priests, that is if women were the bridegroom, same-sex marriages notwithstanding. So these are the kinds of arguments, and intellectually they are very thin up against the thousands of women who are very well prepared, not only to be ordained, which I think is the lesser question, but to be fully engaged in decision-making in the Church. Those of us who are progressive Catholics are not necessarily interested in adding women and stirring in the clergy. We don’t want to see women engaged in an exclusive process, just a few of us because we are theologically trained. We want to see a horizontal integration of this enormous global community, where voices are heard on their own terms and their own languages, and where privilege does not accrue to those who are clergy. So we’re really talking about a different model of Church. Not just a little tweaking here and there.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in Rabbi Michael Lerner, who is the founder of TIKKUN magazine, the Tikkun community, and then get William Portier’s response. Michael Lerner, your concerns right now about the new Pope?

MICHAEL LERNER: Well, of course, the Pope has tremendous impact, not just internally in the Church, and all the important issues that Mary just raised, but also globally, politically. Ratzinger was instrumental in efforts by the Church to block moves by the United Nations for birth control, and as a result, the growth of AIDS in countries where — in Africa where there was not adequate birth control information, and Ratzinger has played this role. I’m surprised to hear the other gentleman talking about the peace efforts, because despite the fact that the former Pope under Ratzinger’s tutelage did speak out against the wars, when it comes down to it, the actual impact of the Church has been pro-war, because Ratzinger has been a major figure in prioritizing the alleged sexual crimes, namely homosexuality and abortion, and making those more important for the Church than its struggle for peace or social justice, as was mentioned earlier. I think you did, Amy, the fact that he played this role of conveying to American — the American Catholic public, the notion that Kerry should not receive communion, during the election, that’s put in there, because Kerry had supported abortion rights. Well, the effect of that is to push Catholics against Kerry and to say that that’s the critical issue, not the war in Iraq and not social justice issues. So that twisting of priorities inside the Church has impact globally in the way that the Church influences policy around the world. So at that level, it’s a disaster, because in continuing to prioritize the alleged sexual crimes over the social justice and peace vision that is inherent in Christianity, but has not — but, so that’s one level.

Of course, there’s another level, and that’s relationship to other groups in the world. And Ratzinger has been one who has insisted inside the Church, that it is not acceptable to see other religious communities as equally valid ways of approaching God. That is, he has a consciousness that is very much like the consciousness in the Church of ancient days, that led to the Inquisition. He wants — he really is the grand inquisitor today in the Church. He’s played this role of throwing out of positions of authority many Catholic thinkers who have strayed from his vision, particularly anyone connected with liberation theology or any variant thereof. And I think that that’s had an amazing impact on the Church. That was shown to me yesterday, when I got literally more than a dozen phone calls from Catholics, who are members of the Tikkun community, because Tikkun is an interfaith organization, asking me to speak out on this issue, because they were afraid to do that. And I was on a call-in show last night, talking about these issues, and a priest calls in and says, yeah, this is absolutely true. I could never — what Rabbi Lerner is saying is 100% true, but if anybody knew my name, I would be out of my job, if I were to agree with him publicly, and they knew who I was.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor William Portier, could you respond to Rabbi Lerner.

WILLIAM PORTIER: Yeah, it’s hard to respond to all of those things. The first thing I wanted to respond to was the role of Ratzinger in attempts to deny communion to John Kerry. I voted for John Kerry, and the Sunday before the election, he came to a parish church right down the street from the University of Dayton and received communion there. And a couple of weeks before that, I, you know, I might be wrong about this, but I thought Ratzinger issued a clarification that kind of put an end to the attempts of certain American bishops to prevent Kerry from receiving communion. You know, he put forth a very traditional kind of argument about material cooperation. You know, like material cooperation and evil, that this really couldn’t be considered to be that. And I think that many of the people that wanted to refuse communion to Kerry were very disappointed with what Ratzinger said. So I don’t think that he was — he was at the spearhead of that.

The other stuff, two things. The idea of prioritizing sexual issues over social justice issues, this is something that Catholics argue about all the time, and you know, liberal Catholics always ask, “Why isn’t social justice as important as sexuality?” And I have some sympathy with that position. But I also think that the Pope, the previous Pope, John Paul II, was really strong on social justice and the defense of human rights. And that to Americans, it seems that that’s inconsistent with his positions on sexual issues. And I don’t think in the time allotted that I could ever communicate that this is part of a single world view or vision, but I think that that’s the case and that, you know, it’s based on a kind of vision of Christ as the definition of human beings, you know, a revelation of what human beings could be. And then that raises the question, the last issue that Rabbi Lerner talked about, the idea that Ratzinger does not see other religious communities as valid approaches to God. That’s a kind of, you know, difficult theoretical question. If you said that all religious communities were equally valid approaches to God, before the law, well, of course, that’s true, and the Second Vatican Council is solemnly committed to that. To call Ratzinger an inquisitor, when, you know, he belongs to an organization that has renounced coercive power in the defense of truth, seems not accurate. But, you know, Ratzinger wants to take his stand with Christ, and he expects the people that he talks to to stand where they stand and to talk. You know, when the Pope stood at the western wall and put his prayer in there, the last thing that his prayer said was that we commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant, and the “Covenant” has a capital “C.” And, you know, the Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions in its fourth section has a long section on the relationship of Christianity and Judaism. And you know, I think it’s open to what I would call a kind of two covenants theology. Well, I’ll stop there.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with Mary Hunt of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual. A quick comment.

MARY HUNT: Well, I think that what we are looking at now is a vision, and that we do have competing visions within the Catholic Church in terms of its structure. But I think that progressive Catholics and people of goodwill all over the world see that religions are dynamic activities and they’re human institutions, and that they do change, and that we are hopeful that Catholicism, even with Cardinal Ratzinger now as the Pope, will change. And it will change because if it doesn’t, it will fall of its own dead weight. That, in fact, the teachings and the kind of world view that has held sway in the last 25 years is simply over. There are not people — this is not the way post-modern people see the world. But there are many people who are looking toward an inter-religious way of living in a pluralistic world of solving the social problems together and bringing the renewable moral energies of religion to that task. And that’s what I look forward to, and that’s what I and many other committed progressive Catholics will be doing. Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI or not.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Hunt, I want to thank you for being with us, of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual; Michael Lerner, Rabbi Michael Lerner, TIKKUN magazine and Tikkun community; and Professor William Portier of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton. Thanks for joining us.

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